Baringo on the brink of climate crisis as charcoal burning continues unabated


A boda boda rider transports bags of charcoal at Kampi ya Moto on the Nakuru-Marigat road 

Photo credit: File | Nation Media Group

Baringo County is on the brink of a climate crisis thanks to endless charcoal burning.

With little intervention from the local administration and national government, charcoal burners are having a field day.

A visit to the region reveals a sad state of affairs as there are no more beautiful tree canopies of the acacia and shrubs as the land is stripped bare to burn charcoal.

We were shown how easy it is to plunder the remaining tree cover as charcoal burners, armed with sharp pangas and chainsaws, cut down trees.

Baringo Charcoal

A boda boda rider transporting bags of charcoal from Marigat sub-county in Baringo to Nakuru on November 12, 2021. 

Photo credit: Francis Mureithi | Nation Media Group

Environmental activists say the youth are fuelling climate change as they conduct their illegal business since security agencies have turned a blind eye to the man-made crisis.

Some of the charcoal burners go about their businesses openly. The global war on environmental degradation is derailed as one more tree is cut down.    

The message here is a distress signal as the vegetation remaining after valuable trees are removed is set ablaze for land use. This influences local temperature and climate.

These fires produce air pollution that poses a severe health risk. Children, older people, pregnant women, and people with pre-existing lung or heart diseases are vulnerable.

"The boda boda riders pay protection fees and bribe security officers and local administration and that is why charcoal burning is big business in Baringo County," said Mr Philomen Ruto a resident of Marigat.

Baringo charcoal

A resident of Marigat sub-county in Baringo County waits for buyers of his two bags of charcoal on November 12, 2021. 

Photo credit: Francis Mureithi | Nation Media Group

Mr Ruto is now worried about his family because every tree that is cut in Baringo releases carbon dioxide back into the atmosphere. This contributes to global warming which means reduced rainfall.

Local administrators like chiefs who have been at the forefront in fighting charcoal burning say they are fighting a losing battle as the destruction continues. Vast areas are cleared and the burning of charcoal continues.

As the destruction of forests and the remaining shrubs in areas such as Marigat and Mogotio continues, the number of boda boda riders each carrying an average of six bags of charcoal to Nakuru and Eldoret Towns continues to rise by the day.


A man walks past trees that have been cut to make charcoal in Marigat sub-county in Baringo county on October 12, 2022. 

Photo credit: Francis Mureithi | Nation Media Group

According to experts, an average of 1,200 bags of charcoal with each bag having about five indigenous trees are cut. This translates to about 6,000 bags per day. In a month 18,000 trees are destroyed. In a year, more than 216,000 trees are cut.

Interestingly, this is happening in a largely semi-arid county that has a population of 666,763 people according to the 2019 census and is teetering on the brink of a climate crisis catastrophe with more than 239,036 people in dire need of food aid.

Apart from drought and famine, Baringo is hit by endless cattle rustling and deadly banditry attacks that have left hundreds of people dead and many others maimed. 

It is not the human beings that are facing biting hunger as wildlife like the ostrich are now invading human habitats, posing danger to Marigat sub-county residents.  

"The wild animals compete for pasture with my goats. I fear my goat may get diseases. I have 600 goats and I pay Sh3 per goat every time I take them to the cattle dip. I do that twice a month and it is becoming expensive," said Ms Selina Chepkoech.

At least about 5,000 livestock have died due to a lack of fodder and water due to the prolonged drought.   

The illegal charcoal burning in the county is a disaster in the making. It is stalking the 10,976 km² Area that is waiting to explode if no action is taken.  

Many experts say reversing the trend will not be an easy task as the number of boda-boda riders plunging into the lucrative business is increasing by the day due to the lack of jobs.

"The situation is getting worse by the day as more youth join the business. It is important for the devolved unit and the national government to find a lasting solution before the entire Baringo County is converted into a desert," said a retired chief in Marigat.

Baringo charcoal

Tree stumps left after cutting of trees to burn charcoal in Marigat sub-county in Baringo county on November 12, 2021.

Photo credit: Francis Mureithi | Nation Media Group

He added: "Many water points have dried up completely and if no urgent measures are taken to provide alternative sources of livelihoods to our youth, many will join the charcoal burning business and this will see Baringo tree cover dwindle in the next 20 years."

Residents complained that the illegal charcoal-burning business is happening under the watch of security agencies.

"The fight against the destruction of the environment is sadly happening when we have police roadblocks, Kenya Forest Service and local administration who have turned the more than 200 boda boda riders into a cash cow," said Mr John Kiplagat, a resident of Mogotio.

Baringo Governor Benjamin Cheboi said the effects of climate change pose the most serious challenges in the county.

"As Baringo, we must be alive to the urgent need to embrace environmental conservation, adopt restoration mechanisms and learn climate-smart agriculture to safeguard our county from the effects of climate change and ultimately create a climate-resilient county," said Mr Cheboi.

Mr Cheboi revealed that the weather outlook for the county indicates that the region will experience below-average rainfall in the last quarter of this year.

"We need to strategise on the best approach to mitigate the adverse effects of climate change that might occur. We must create synergy, marshal more resources and adopt a more coordinated, real-time and targeted intervention that will guarantee assistance to the vulnerable people in drought-affected areas."

He noted that the environment is the basis of the existence of Baringo residents. 

"Most of the food security challenges that we have witnessed over the years in our county are as a result of erratic weather patterns," he added.